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In the very first chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire and the very first sequence of Game of Thrones,
we see mysterious icy figures called “white walkers”, or “Others”.
At first, we know nothing about them. Now, five books and five seasons later, we… still
know almost nothing. But we “do know some things”, so let's look at what we've got and try to work out what the Others are, what they want, and what'll happen.
The Others appear as “white shadows in the darkness”, “Tall and gaunt”
with “Bright … blue” eyes. They “come when it's cold”, in the night, or else
they bring the cold and darkness when they come. Old Nan calls them “dead things”,
Sam calls them “monsters”, and Stannis calls them “Demons made of snow and ice and cold”,
but when one's killed we see they're “creatures” made of “blood”
and “flesh” and “bone”. George Martin has said that they're “not dead”
but“a different sort of life” – “strange, beautiful … inhuman, elegant, dangerous”.
In the show, the walkers look more or less like really old men with wrinkled skin, white
beards, black nails, and bad teeth. Either way, the Others clearly aren't “dead things”
or “demons” but living creatures. They speak, in a language of their own. They laugh,
they “screech” in pain , in the show they show shock and anger. They make things out of ice.
So the Others are intelligent, with emotion and maybe culture.
They might not be the monsters that they seem. That said, they do a lot of killing.
The Others wear “rippl[ing] … shift[ing]” armour that can make them near-“invisible”,
and wield “strange pale sword[s]” so sharp they can “slice … through ringmail
as if it were silk”. They fight effortlessly, mercilessly, “lightning quick” and
with the strength, in the show, to throw men like ragdolls. “their … swords are so
cold they shatter steel”, and their armour protects them from most blades – they seem
unstoppable. But they can be killed with obsidian, also called dragonglass. Sam stabs an Other
with an obsidian dagger, and the walker “melt[s] away“, its fingers smoking where they touch
obsidian. It's also hinted that Valyrian steel swords can kill walkers , and we see
this in the show – Jon Snow's Valyrian steel sword disintegrates an Other into icy
CGI. Others also apparently “don't like fire” – which probably means they'd
really hate dragons. The Others resurrect the dead as “wights”,
basically zombies controlled by the Others. Wights are “slow clumsy things”, “with
blue eyes and cold black hands”, though in the show they're sometimes skeletal and
fast . Wights don't speak , and seem to have no humanity left – though they seem
to keep some memories. The Others make wights out of “men … women … children” – and
animals – walkers “ride dead horses”, send a bear into battle , and animate a
raven. The Others use wights to fight for them, and they're very dangerous. Wights
seem stronger than living men, able to “[lift a man] in the air by the throat and near [rip]
the head off him”. In the show they tear through timber with their bare hands, they
fall off a cliff and keep on running. They don't seem to feel pain. Even losing their
head won't stop them , and if a hand is cut off, the hand will keep moving. Unlike
the Others, wights aren't hurt by obsidian. The only way to stop them is to chop them
into bits , or to burn them. Wights are really flammable, “burst[ing] into flame” from
even a little touch of fire. So one wight isn't all that bad, but at the Fist of the
First Men, and at Hardhome in the show, they come in a huge “swarm”, an unstoppable
“tide of [the] living dead”, all controlled by the icy white walkers.
So what do the Others want? What are they doing? Well, they've been killing a lot
of humans. In Book 1 they kill some wildlings, and some men of the Night's Watch , and
they send wights after the Lord Commander and acting First Ranger at Castle Black. In
Book 3 they use wights to kill hundreds of Night's Watchmen at the Fist of the First
Men , then Sam kills a walker, and later wights are sent after Sam and Gilly. In Book 5 wights
attack Bran and company , and attack Hardhome. We also learn the Others have been attacking
wildlings for years , forcing them to flee south and “hide behind [the] Wall”. So
the Others are killing humans of many different groups on a large scale, and are building
an army of the dead . But that's not all they're doing.
The wildling Craster refers to the Others as “gods”, and has a sort of an agreement with them.
They don't attack him and his wives , and in return, Craster gives them his male children,
leaving the newborns in the snow to be collected by the Others. In the show, there's a scene
where an Other takes one of Craster's sons to a kind of an altar in what looks like the
far-north Land of Always Winter. There, the baby is changed into what looks like an Other.
One of Craster's wives refers to the Others as “Craster's sons”. So it looks like
the Others can transform humans into Others, and that some people give their children to
the Others as a religious offering. It's probably not just Craster doing this. There
are all sorts of “strange” wildling cultures further to the north, and some of them are
rumoured to worship “gods of snow and ice”. Sacrifice to the Others may be a widespread
thing. The word Others is used as a curse, like a swear word, and the phrase is almost
always “The Others take you”. It's not 'the Others kill you”, or 'the Others
steal your stuff' – it is sometimes 'the Others bugger you' – but it's almost
always “the Others take you”, suggesting that the Others have a history of taking humans.
We also hear stories of “wildlings who would lay with the Others to birth half-human children”,
which sounds like a different thing, but either way, the Others clearly don't just
want to kill humans, but also want to use them make more Others. Maybe that's the
only way Others can reproduce, maybe this is part of some kind of natural cycle. For
now, we don't know. What we do know is that the Others are killing people, they're building
an army of the dead, and winter is coming. Melisandre says they're “marshalling”
their “evil” “power” and will wage “a war for life itself”, that they'll
bring a “night that never ends”, unless “true men” can fight them in a “great
battle” called “the war for the dawn”. Stannis calls the Others “The only enemy
that matters”. Jon calls them the “real foe” and says “they will come for us”.
Everyone's expecting war between humanity and the Others.
Which could make sense, because a “war for the dawn” has apparently happened before.
We're told legends of “the Long Night” – a dark winter, thousands of years ago,
that lasted a generation. It's said that “In that darkness, the Others came”, to
“extinguish all light and warmth”. “They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms,
felled heroes and armies by the score, riding” “monstrous ice spiders and the horses of
the dead”, “leading hosts of the slain”. When “the realms of men” were almost
at “an end”, Westeros was saved by the “last hero”, who, with the “help”
of the children of the forest – who might have given him obsidian – established the
Night's Watch, and defeated the Others in battle. After this victory, the Wall was
built to make sure the Others could never came back. So that's the story in Westeros.
Across the Narrow Sea, the Rhoynar have legends of a darkness, but there's no mention of
the Others or a battle. In central Essos, the Dothraki and the cultures of Slaver's
Bay seem to have no tales of the Long Night. But in the far east, there are legends very
similar to the one of the “last hero” and the “battle for the dawn”.
The YiTish say that during the Long Night they were attacked by the “Lion of Night” and his “demons”,
who were defeated when a hero called Azor Ahai forged a burning sword and led humanity
into battle. Now, huge mysterious citadels called the Five Forts stand to keep the demons
out, dividing the “realms of men” from the Grey Waste beyond . Which sounds a lot
like the Wall, right? And the “demons” of the “Lion of Night” sound a lot like
the Others. Isn't it super weird that such similar things happened on apparently opposite
sides of the world? George Martin has said that his world is round, so if you went far
enough east you must eventually find Westeros. Maybe these two places, the Grey Waste and
the Land of Always Winter, are connected. Maybe the Others of Westeros and the “demons”
of Yi Ti are one and the same, based in some place between the Wall and the Five Forts.
That would make this area a centre of cold in this world, leaving Valyria – where the
Targaryens and apparently dragons come from – a centre of heat. This gives a sense of
order to the fire and ice in this world, and might explain why the Long Night affected
Westeros and Yi Ti so badly without affecting central Essos apparently at all. This could
also be related to the irregular seasons, which George Martin has suggested will eventually
be resolved somehow. Anyway, the main legends agree that the Long Night ended with a battle
led by a hero now prophesied be reborn and save the world once more.
Which, y'know, could happen. Jon Snow could be reborn with a flaming sword as Azor Ahai,
he could unite the Night's Watch, the wildlings, and the north, and lead them to war, killing
Others with obsidian from the children of the forest – or from Stannis' mines
– and Daenerys could fly in with her dragons, to burn away the dead, and Tyrion could ride
one of the dragons, and Bran could warg one of the other ones, and Rickon could ride in
on a unicorn, and all the good guys could come together and kill all the bad guys, and
Daenerys and Jon could make out, and rule together as Queen and King, as fire and ice,
for ever and ever, the end. Except things probably won't be that simple.
Does it really make sense for this story to end with a war? We've seen so much war already,
and most it achieves nothing but suffering. Look at Robb Stark's campaign, Daenerys'
conquests in Slaver's Bay, Stannis' invasion of Blackwater Bay – they're all seemingly
just wars waged by seemingly good people, but they all fail their original goals and
cause a huge amount of suffering, not just for the nobility, but for the common people.
Look at Arya's chapters at Harrenhal, Jaime's chapters in the riverlands, at Septon Meribald's
speech – we're shown over and over that war is terrible and wrong and pointless.
George Martin himself was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, and many of his other
books also have a strong anti-war theme . So how can a story filled with terrible, unjust,
pointless wars end with a great war that saves the world?
A “war for the dawn” would also be too obvious. George Martin has said that “part
of the thing [he] always strive[s] for in [his] books, is not to be predictable”. And
what could be more predictable than the good guys defeating the evil ice monsters in a
big epic battle? Martin has specifically criticised the Lord-of-the-Rings-style war between good
and evil. He says “We don't need any more Dark Lords, we don't need any more” “good
guys battling bad guys”, “the wars in my books are much more morally complex”.
Showrunner David Benioff has said “it's not going to be your classic good-versus-evil
conflict”. So the writer of the series and the creators of the show, as well as the
series itself make it clear that this story won't end with a righteous war between good
guys and bad guys. Which makes you wonder –
maybe that's not what happened last time either. Legends of the Long Night and the “battle for the
dawn” are ancient , and weren't even written down until thousands of years after they supposedly
happened. We're warned over and over not to trust these tales. So while the Long Night
did seem to have happened, and the Others clearly are real, the “war for the dawn”
might not have happened the way we're told. After all, it's pretty hard to believe that
humanity could've defeated the Others – we've seen how dangerous they are. Would a hero
with a flaming sword have been enough to win the war? A popular idea in the fan community
is that the Long Night ended with some kind of peaceful agreement between humanity and
the Others. Hints of this can be found at the Nightfort.
The Nightfort is the oldest and the largest of the castles on the Wall, the “chief seat
of the [Night's] Watch” for “thousands of years”. Now, it's abandoned, and notorious
as a “haunted” and “dreadful place”. It's the subject of horror stories and
strange legends, some of which hint at a connection between the Night's Watch and
the Others. This brings us to the story of the Night's King. To clear something up
real quick, this white walker in the show is referred to as the “Night King” by
HBO, but it's probably not the same figure as the legendary Night's King, at least
not in the books, so keep that in mind. The story of the Night's King goes that thousands
of years ago, the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night's Watch loved a woman “with
skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars” – which sounds like an Other or
a wight. He “gave his seed to her [and] his soul as well”, he “proclaimed her
a queen and himself her king”, he “bound his Sworn Brothers to his will” “with
strange sorceries”, and “ruled” “For thirteen years” until the Starks and the
wildlings “joined” together to cast him down. It was then found that the Night's
King had been making “sacrifice[s] to the Others”, which might mean giving them babies,
like Craster. The Night's King was doing this at the Nightfort, and the Nightfort just
happens to have a super creepy underground “hidden” magic door called the Black Gate
that lets Night's Watchmen through the Wall. It's likely that the Night's King was
using this sneaky door to make his secret sacrifices. And the thing is – the Black
Gate is as “old as the Wall itself”. Why does “The greatest and oldest” of the
Night's Watch's castles, its “chief seat” for “thousands of years”, have
an in-built sneaky hidden door to beyond the Wall? Maybe it had always been used for secret
sacrifice to the Others. There are several other legends connecting this castle to the
Others – one about a “hero” with suspiciously blue eyes , another about a “thing that
came in the night”. It definitely seems like some kind of shady shit involving the
Others was going on at the Nightfort in the early years of the Watch. The HBO Viewer's
Guide hints at a “secret” at the Nightfort – and this secret may soon be uncovered,
because in Dance the Night's Watch starts to restore the castle for habitation. Maybe
they'll find that the Watch has a history of sacrifice to the Others.
You've gotta wonder about the Wall itself – we're told that it was built to keep
the Others out after their defeat in the “battle for the dawn”. But why would you build a
wall made of ice to stop creatures of ice? And how could it have been built? We're
told that the First Men cut the ice from frozen lakes into huge blocks, dragged them along
on sledges and stacked them up into the Wall. Can you imagine how long that would take?
The Great Pyramid of Giza took decades to build that way, and the Wall is as long as
two thousand Great Pyramids , much taller too. Even with the help of giants , the Wall
would have taken centuries or millennia to build. Doesn't it make more sense for the
Others to have built the Wall – you know, the ice creatures who we know can make things
out of ice? The humans, meanwhile, could have built the nineteen castles along the Wall
– the structures that actually look like they could have been built by humans. Maybe
the Long Night ended not with war but with co-operation. We know from Craster that peaceful
agreement between humans and Others is possible, and we have another precedent in the Pact,
which was a peaceful agreement between the First Men and the children of the forest after
their long horrible war. Under the pact, the children were given the forests, and the first
men given everything else. Maybe, similarly, the humans and Others agreed to give the land
north of the Wall to the Others, and the land south of the Wall to the humans. A bit of
sneaky human sacrifice through the Black Gate might have been part of the deal. Of course,
if there ever was an agreement between the Others and humans, it seems long forgotten
now, everyone's gearing up for war, but – we actually have the perfect hero to make
peace possible again. Jon Snow is the Lord Commander of the Night's
Watch. He's been on or beyond the Wall for almost all of the series and it's hinted
pretty explicitly that has some special destiny. He probably has the blood of the Targaryen
dragon kings as well as the Stark Kings of Winter, he may be the prophesied Azor Ahai,
and he's got some definite similarities with Jesus. However you look at it, Jon seems
to be the guy who will deal with the Others. And the thing is – Jon has a lot of experience
in making peace between peoples. He spends almost all of Dance trying to reconcile the
Night's Watch and the wildlings – two groups who hate each other, have been fighting
for thousands of years , and seem totally foreign to each other. Jon works to achieve
peace because he realises it's best for everyone. He tries to understand and sympathise
with the wildlings – and, similarly, he tries to understand the Others. He keeps
some wights for observation, and gets Sam to research the Others in the Castle Black
library . One of Stannis' knights mockingly asks if Jon would offer the Others hospitality
at the Wall. Maybe that'll actually end up happening.
Jon is, of course, currently bleeding in the snow with four stab wounds, but he'll probably
be resurrected by Melisandre. In the other resurrections we've seen, people change
when they come back from the dead, they seem to become less human , so maybe Jon will too.
He'll certainly feel alienated from the Night's Watch who betrayed him, and he might
feel somehow closer to the Others. His last line in Dance says “He never felt the fourth
knife. Only the cold”. Jon Snow is someone special in this story. He's a hero, and
a bastard in black . He's honourable, and he breaks his vows. He's the son of a Stark
and, probably, a Targaryen. There's a duality in him, a meeting of ice and fire, which makes
him perfect to make peace between humanity and the Others. It won't be easy – there'll
be tough choices, compromises, sacrifices, maybe an uncomfortable marriage , but Jon
Snow seems the perfect person to do it. So maybe, when Jon is reborn, he won't be a
warrior with a burning sword, but a different kind of hero, a greater kind of hero. Someone
who'll work not to rule or destroy, but to co-operate, and understand. Maybe Jon will
bring peace, and balance, to the world of ice and fire.
We first saw the Others in A Game of Thrones, nineteen years ago. And we still don't really
know what they are and what they're about. But we can work some stuff out. The Others
are living creatures of ice that resurrect the dead. They're dangerous, they're killing
people, and building an army of wights, but they're also using humans to reproduce – so
they're probably not trying to wipe humans out. Some expect a battle between humanity
and the Others, which has apparently happened before, but it'd make no sense thematically
for the story to end with war. An alternative is peace, and there are hints at the Nightfort
and the Wall that humans and Others somehow got along in the past. Jon Snow might be the
perfect person to bring a new peace. That's one possibility, anyway – for more theories
and discussion you might like to check out the A Song of Ice and Fire subreddit and the
westeros.org forums. Thanks for watching. This video was made possible
by supporters on Patreon, including xandria lenert, staffio the seventh, RagdollRalph,
Rhaenys The Cat, SovietWomble, Florian Forster, Gloria Easby, Matt Armstrong, Paul Barry,
Theon's Favorite Toy, and Sir Shia of House Labeouf. For production updates, early access,
and a vote on the next video topic, you can support this channel at patreon.com/AltShiftX.
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Others: what do we know about the white walkers?

361 Folder Collection
Jerry Liu published on April 15, 2019
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